Money helps two Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria bounce back after a stroke of fate.
Back home, Edwin maintained his family with income from his carpentry workshop where he employed four apprentices. “All ran away”, he recalls the fear that the conflict between secessionists and the Cameroonian Army instilled in people. “In 2020, everybody ran away, there was no work left.”
“In December 2020, our house was burned down. We slept under a tree with others for three days”, he says. “As it was cold, we lit a fire. This is how they saw us. People ran into the bushes, women were raped. Those that couldn’t run were shot. Six people died in front of my eyes.”
Edwin is one of over 73,000 Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria, and one of many who has lost everything. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, supports them with dedicated cash programmes for food, shelter and to mitigate particular hardships. Just like the little help from a friend in the UK, they are meant to cover their basic needs. “As the cash assistance is unrestricted it can be used for multiple purposes”, explains UNHCR’s Cash/Programme Officer Ramcho Kundevski, “some refugees use it as a booster to bounce back.”
Edwin bounced back. After arriving with his wife and the 2-, 3- and 5-year old children in Takum, Taraba State, he could not work in his profession as he lacked everything a carpenter needs. He started selling petrol by the roadside, making 10 Naira (some 0.25 US$) profit per litre. UNHCR’s financial support – 69,000 Naira (some 170 US$ for the family for three months) changed his precarious economic situation. “The cash support helped us a lot”, he says. “I bought a hand saw, a hammer and a plane. Now I can work as a carpenter again.” And there are Nigerians looking for his furniture. “When I sell three small tables, I can make a profit of 4,500 Naira (over 10 US$).”
In this first-ever cash distribution in Taraba and Akwa Ibom States, over 4,500 refugees and nearly 800 vulnerable Nigerians received support in several parts of these States.
In addition, the Agency recently also paid one-off cash for food to some 2,000 families with extremely vulnerable members such as elderly individuals or those with specific needs, e.g. a disability. This ad-hoc assistance amounted to nearly 75 M Naira (some US$ 180,000).
In total in 2021, UNHCR distributed cash support worth 3 million US$. This was made possible not least thanks to a donation from Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI), a UAE-based donor who supported the Agency with 1.9 M US$ in late 2021 to provide food for six months in 2021 and 2022. From a survey among nearly 900 Cameroonian refugees which UNHCR undertook after a cash distribution a few weeks earlier, it is known that 99.9 per cent of the beneficiaries used the cash to buy food.
Refugees received the money on their bank accounts or cash in hand through partners such as the NGOs Rhema Care and Foundation for Justice Development and Peace as well as the Jesuit Refugee Service.
The money reached refugees living in Nigerian communities such as Edwin, but also Cameroonian refugees in the settlements in Ikyogen (Benue) and around Ogoja (Cross River State). Akum Solange is one of them. She left Manyu Division in the South-West when fighting reached her village and came to Adagom 3 Refugee Settlement in 2018. She has to look after eight children, including three of her late uncle.
Akum, too, experienced a stroke of fate when trying to look after her family. As she could not work in her previous profession – coco farming – , she started having rabbits and wanted to start pig farming to get back on her feet. “I don’t like to sit and wait.” So she borrowed money to buy a pregnant, hence expensive pig. “But when I noticed the pig was not pregnant, I got really annoyed.”
So she and her family survived on the meagre funds they had. “We only rarely had eggs because they are expensive”, Akum shrugs. “And we did not eat chicken for several months.” When UNHCR transferred 65,000 Naira (nearly US$ 160) for her family for three months to her bank account in January 2022, this MBRGI-funded cash support came as a blessing: “I bought a chicken and rice.”
Akum is determined to bounce back again as a pig farmer. After having paid back some of her debt, she is trying to cross her pig with the help of Unifarm, an agricultural cooperative of Cameroonian refugees and Nigerians.
“We don’t like to wait for UNHCR”, she says hinting at the decreasing amounts that UNHCR could distribute in the settlements over the years due to shrinking donor support.
Determined, not to leave anybody vulnerable behind, UNHCR decided to transform its approach from blanket support to needs-based cash assistance. To inform the targeting of its support, the Agency conducted multi-sector vulnerability and capacity assessments of households in settlements in Benue and Cross River States. The assessment aims to help better identify the needs of Cameroonian refugees and host communities and support improved targeting and sector specific support. The assessment was made possible thanks to support from the Directorate-General for the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).
Meanwhile, Edwin and Akum have a shared hope – to “go back home” once “our crisis stops”.